Planting potatoes – sort of gardening

It is now the full moon in August, which is my signal from the planet to plant potatoes. Since the fires six months ago I have lost a lot of my incentive to garden, but I am feeling the Springtime urge to get my hands dirty again. I have been maintaining the tiny patch of potted green in our front yard for a few months and it is planted out to the full extent of possibility, so potatoes will not fit.

Since the fire, (a lot of sentences start with that phrase now) I have become very aware of flammable material close to the humpy and gardens need a lot of flammable material to be fertile. To answer the conflicting urges to be fire safe and to grow some food, I decided to start planting staple crops out on the edge of the fire break in a little fenced off area with it’s own water supply (to be wet down in the event of a fire coming close). The fenced off area is yet to happen, but potato planting time is here, so I just ignored the lack of a fence and planted.

This year, I am trying the Ruth Stout method (sort of) and planting in hay mulch. As I am incapable of following any sort of instructions without modification (oppositional child here), I used the hay cleaned out of the animal pens to plant into.

The hay for planting is well traveled; it starts life here at the humpy as sheep fodder, we keep a round bale in the sheep night pen for midnight snacking purposes (which is why the vet says our sheep are heart attack risks). Once the sheep have eaten the bits of it they like, and pooped and peed into the other bits on the ground, the hay is raked up and used as bedding for rabbits, chooks, geese and the sheep. Once it is raked out of the pens (every two weeks or so), it is piled up to be used as mulch. This hay is now damp (with spilled water pots and pee) and filled with a variety of fertility boosting poops. It is also starting to break down into compost.

A random potato planting.

I began the potato planting with a little row of eight tubers in the designated area for planting staple crops; near our new cardboard/mulch hole. More potatoes will join these ones in a mulched field around the compost hole. My partner is going to move one of the fire fighting tank units up to this patch so that the hole and the mulched garden can be wet down really well when a fire threatens.

Yes, it looks like a dump.

The compost hole is huge; at least five metres across and about two metres deep. The purpose of this hole is to hold (and compost) any materials that are waste from the humpy, but will break down into nutrient rich compost (eventually). In there are broken furniture, cardboard, floor sweepings, paper (from cage cleaning, so covered in poop), natural fibre clothes, old or damaged fleece, hair clippings, etc. All the things we used to dump in the chook pen to be turned into compost are now thrown into the hole. The idea is that eventually (in a few years time) we will have a huge ‘pot’ of compost to plant fruit trees into. I don’t know if this will work, but I am willing to give it a go.

#coronavirus- Re-imagining the front yard

The front yard has gone wild, since the fires went out and the rain began the green has threatened to take over the humpy. There are weeds everywhere and I have been very slack about pulling them out. It has become a jungle and it looks so messy. I decided that now is a great time to begin the tidy-up cycle (again).

The weeds need to go; a huge job in itself (as you can see in the photo). Also the pots and things laying about need to be cleaned away to make way for more productive areas.

The Funeral Forest pots (that’s what we call the collection of large pots with fruiting plants that contain the ashes of various family members) are scattered randomly around the area, leaving no space for living in.

The fence around the hugelkultur bed serves no purpose now (other than preventing me from working on the bed easily), and I plan to remove the side facing the front yard.

I would like to put a small table and some chairs out the front so I can sit and admire the results when I am done. I will see if I can fit something in.

The progress is slow on this project; I am only putting in a half hour of work at a time. Suddenly , the need to finish a project is gone. I am just enjoying the process and when I have had enough for the time being, I leave it. This is (sort of) how I have always been (and this is why the yard turns into a jungle on a regular basis), but the current situation has bought me back to my true self; easily distracted and pleasure driven.

That big mass of aloe is actually in a pot. It took the trolley and a crow bar to move it.

The Hugelkultur bed looks so much larger with the front fence and the big pot of aloe removed. I piled all the weeds up on the bed to become soil food. There are seeds on a lot of the weeds, but I will cover the lot with cardboard when it collapses a bit and put compost or soil over it; that should slow down the weeds until the plants I choose can get their roots into the soil.

The wooden shelves I moved from beside the front gate to the tank will look nice covered with plants in terracotta pots (I think). I am just waiting for a chance to pick up more cuttings and some larger pots.

The Funeral Forest of pots that were scattered around randomly… are still scattered around. I did try to group them a bit more artistically though. I love to visit with all the animals who have passed on and remember the joy they have given me.

I managed to find a desk I am no longer using and some camping chairs. For the moment that will give me somewhere to sit. I am on the lookout for a small outdoor setting though (second hand of course).

Now I can properly appreciate my wall art. A very talented friend made these wall panels for me as gifts. I love the way they brighten up the entrance to the humpy and I plan to cover the whole wall with them (if I can).

There is still a fair way to go on this project; I have a patch of weeds behind the tank, and plants to be potted and planted out, but I am happy to be pottering around outside again and thinking about the future.

The herb beds…er…logs and a new bed

Note: you may notice that the first part of this post was made in the days when we had rain. The second part is in the current situation of deep drought. This is because I got distracted by other pursuits and didn’t get to finish the post. Because I hate to waste anything, I thought I would just update the post with some photos of the current state of the area.

Read on…

Living in the bush as we do, wood is easy to come by, we use it for everything; burning as fuel, structural building material, even in the garden. I have several hollow logs cut in half placed around one of the water tanks that were always intended to become herb beds. Unfortunately I sort of lost interest in the project for a year or two and they have sat there, looking messy ever since. I guess it is time to tackle that problem opportunity.

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First of all the weeds have to go. I need to clear around the tank in general in fact. As I was staring at the mess, wishing there were an easier way, inspiration struck. Why don’t I just lay cardboard over the weeds behind the hollow logs and cover it all with gravel? It would make it look neat and reduce the fire hazard as well. That will have to wait until I can go and get some gravel.

The hollow logs were easy to fix. I dug out the old soil and mixed it with pig poop and lime, then shoveled it back in. Once the beds have settled down and composted a bit more I will plant some herbs in there, I will probably have to fence them off too, because everything wants to eat anything newly planted.

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All inspired by this bit of progress, I decided to build a new Hugelkultur bed in the front yard. This area used to have a trellis made from a couple of bed bases tied to poles and some tires planted with choko vines, unfortunately the ducks managed to break into the choko vine covers and ate the lot. So the whole mess sat, doing nothing for a year or so; the chooks dug the soil out of the tires, the trellis fell down and the grass grew over the lot. Time to jazz it up a bit.

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First I needed to put the trellis back up. A couple of pieces of scrap metal about 1.5m long and a star picket later I had a trellis again, of course the zip ties helped too (what did we do before zip ties?). Sometimes I am so thankful we are too lazy to take stuff to the dump.

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Now for the garden bed. Time to collect wood and bury it in pig poop…fun.

I gathered branches and stray bits of wood from all around the humpy for a couple of hours. Thanks to my trusty wheel barrow I can collect quite a large amount in a trip. Then I filled the gaps in between with partially composted pig poop from the conveniently placed pile up the hill (thanks Lucille), remembering to sprinkle the whole lot with lime periodically (which helps reduce the smell and adjusts the pH from acid back down towards neutral).

This new bed is going to take a while to settle down into a rich, fertile growing area so I need to gather plenty of mulch to cover over the pig poop and reduce the smell. Mulch also gives a bed that finished look, whether it is finished or not.

Now for the present day photos…

Nothing really likes to grow in the log bed, but the zucchini really go well in the compost in the bed in front of the log. Everything is in pots at the moment because it is easier to water everything with our second use water.
The bush beans seem to love growing in the log on this side.
We moved the aquaculture set up to the shaded area near the humpy so that A****e wouldn’t cook. The pots with herbs and veges are our way of keeping a bit of green about.
The new Hugelkultur be became a compost heap that was over a metre high. It has broken down really well and is ready for seedlings as soon as we get some rain. The tree in the middle of it is an Elder, I hope to get berries from it one day.

Yes, our humpy is a place of half-assed half-finished projects, but we have a lot of fun doing it and what else is life for, if not to follow your joy? We are messy people, you won’t find much order here, what you will find is interest and new ideas (sometimes the same new idea that has been long forgotten and then suddenly rediscovered). I do love my life!!

Making vege burgers from Madagascar beans

Madagascar bean, growing like a weed.

The Madagascar bean plants have continued to grow and now it is Spring again, they have decided to bear a huge crop of beans (even though it is so very dry). I thought I would share a recipe for using the dried beans in vege burgers as a way of using my stash of last years crop in preparation for harvesting a new batch.

The new harvest begins.

I didn’t use a particular recipe to make my burgers, just added things I had on hand, but I did manage to find a similar recipe here.

There is a mix of Madagascar beans and bush beans in this batch.

First; soak a cup of dried beans in hot water for a few hours (or overnight).

Then boil the beans for about two hours (or until they can be squashed to mush with a fork).

Blend the beans together with; 1 cup of grated carrot/raw beetroot, 1 onion, 1 cup red lentils (these can be boiled with the beans if they are dried), 1/2 cup boiled sweet potato, 1 chia egg (1 tspn chia seed in 1 tblespn hot water), garlic, soy sauce, salt and pepper.

Carrots, onion, garlic, capsicum (and a sneaky chilli)
Sweet potato and a chia egg or two.

Put the whole mess in a bowl and mix in bread crumbs or oat bran until you can form patties that stick together.

Shallow fry the patties and serve with vegetables or as a burger. Yum.

Yum

They can also be frozen before cooking to have a quick, easy meal ready to cook.

Planting chokos…again

I plant chokos every few years here; not because they are biennial but because the geese and chooks eat them regularly and they never seem to get ahead of the predators.

Choko (or chayote) is a vine crop that is known to be very hardy and bears in HUGE quantities. I love the flavour, although not everyone does. In the past I have used them to make pickles, steamed with other vegetables and to bulk up sauces and pies (apple pie can be made with just one apple and lots of chokos. They take on the flavour of any fruit or vegetable they are cooked with so the possibilities are endless. They are so useful in the kitchen that we are trying to grow them again. They can also be used as animal food, and so can the leaves.

We planted them in a big pot this time, straight into a mix of compost from the chook pen (made up of cardboard, food scraps and chook poop) and sand. The chokos we planted are three chokos in a bag that were left to fend for themselves at the back of the cupboard. They developed long runners to push out of the bag and try to find water or soil, these runners may sprout leaves and grow, or we may have to wait until a bigger sprout pushes up from the base. The whole choko is buried in a shallow trench in the pot with minimal cover over the sprouting end.

Adding a smallish plastic container to the bottom of the pot gives the plant a water reservoir for dry times.
A mix of compost and sand will feed and support the new plant.
These chokos really want to live.
Planted and ready to grow.

It is easy to get discouraged by the amount of plants our animals eat, but we keep trying.

Aquaponics update- the system is cycled and ready for A*****e to move in.

It has taken many weeks for the system to go through it’s ammonia-nitrite-nitrate cycle, but it is finally ready to house A*****e. Today is the day we move him to his new pond.

The lettuce and spinach are growing really well; I have been harvesting them consistently.

This is the lettuce the day I planted it.
Doesn’t the lettuce look healthy?

When I first turned the system on, the sound of running water outside sent me into a near panic every hour (the water cycles through for fifteen minutes every hour) when I heard the sound of our precious water running away. Drought does that to you. Now I am used to it, I find it relaxing and calming; splashing water is such a rich sound don’t you think? (drought does that to you too)

I have continued to add occasional fish food to the system to give the bacteria some ammonia to work with and I added a cap full of Seasol to the water to feed the plants.

Three weeks ago I tested the water to see if it was ready to accept fish in the system; it was not. Water testing is a big part of keeping an aquaponics system healthy (not to mention the fish). Fish can die very easily in high ammonia and nitrite water, so it is important to wait until the bacteria colonies are established before adding an ammonia generator (which is what fish are). Below are the results of the test from the first week;

The pH was 6.6…it should be around 7.3
The ammonia was 2.0…it should be 0.0 (or close to it)
The nitrite was 1.0…it should be 0.0 (or close to it)
The nitrate was 10….it can be quite high

The fact that there is a nitrate level to read shows that both the bacteria that turns ammonia to nitrite and the bacteria that turns nitrite to nitrate are there, living in their little clay ball cities. I just had to wait for the populations to grow enough to get the nitrite and ammonia levels down to almost nothing.

Two weeks ago I tested the water again;

The pH is getting higher.
The ammonia is lower.
The nitrite is very high.
The nitrate levels are high, yay!

Not ready just yet. We will wait another week.

This week I tested again and found a surprising result;

The pH is going in the wrong direction; it is 6.0 when it should be 7.3
The ammonia is close to 0.0, yay!
The nitrite is below 0.25
The nitrate is around 80…perfect level

To begin to change the pH I added 1 teaspoon of aglime to the water and retested after a few hours. I also began to acclimatize A*****e by getting my daughter to put him in a bucket about half full of his water then I poured water from the new pond into it at the rate of 1/4 cup every 15 minutes or so. After a full day of this he was ready to be poured into the pond.

He’s in there somewhere.

My daughter also moved over some sand, weed and a floaty rock thing for him. He seems very happy in there so far. The water test after three days was encouraging, except the pH.

pH is still 6.0 to 6.4
Ammonia is 0.0
Nitrite is 0.0
Nitrate is 80.0. Plenty of plant food.

My next move is to add another grow bed. I am really enjoying the mad scientist element of aquaponics; test tubes, coloured chemicals, wild solutions.

Plants in the garden- pomegranate tree

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A couple of years ago, a friend gave me a tiny seedling pomegranate tree. I took her home and potted her on to a larger pot. This little seedling sat in the garden (in one place or another) for a further year, until one day I decided it was time to plant her out.

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The pomegranate is one of the world’s oldest cultivated trees. They are a hardy and do not have many pests (excepting ducks, sheep and fruit fly), so my little tree is becoming a much bigger tree. She has not yet flowered, after three years, but that is probably because of the long term neglect she has suffered while waiting for me to get my act together and find a place to plant her.

 

Plants in the garden- Madagascar beans

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There are a lot of plants in my garden (not as many as my mother’s garden, but still, a lot), and these plants don’t often get to be noticed by anyone other than me. So I thought I would start a series of posts that introduce the plants I manage to grow in my garden, despite animal depredation, insect attack, serious neglect and outright attack with a mower or whipper snipper.

First in the line up is the Madagascar bean; a perennial , sub-tropical lima bean. I planted 5 seeds in toilet paper rolls in the Summer and planted out the sweet little seedlings about three weeks later. I chose a spot in the Hugelkultur garden that would let the beans climb on the fence and would eventually give shade to a couple of beds for planting lettuce and silverbeet in the hot summer months. Little did I know that the plants grow like Jack’s beanstalk and look likely to take over the whole vegetable garden roof area. I think that I will be doing a lot of pruning next Spring to keep some growing areas in the sun.

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Somewhere in there are 5 little bean seeds

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Planted out as young seedlings

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I have created a monster

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Apparently the seeds can be eaten when young as a broad bean substitute (steamed or boiled) and the dried beans can be used anywhere dried beans can be used (soaked, cooked and put into soups, stews, burgers, casserole, etc). My vines have pods, and I am now waiting around impatiently (checking my watch, sighing, pacing a little) for them to form beans so I can try to trick my partner into believing I have grown broad beans for him (he doesn’t know what the plant looks like anyway). I am becoming a big fan of perennial vegetables, I think I will seek out a few more.

Damned possum…seedling disaster

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This sad pile of sand, newspaper and seedlings greeted me this morning when I went to check the garden. At some point last night one of the resident possums decided that cauliflower, broccoli and asparagus seedlings looked good, so he jumped down onto the pile of milk crates I have been using to house my seedlings and clawed the trays down. It must have been a fun party because there are many little possum pellets (poop) scattered around the pile. We didn’t hear a thing from the humpy so he didn’t even rouse the chooks who sleep beside the vegetable garden and serve as an early warning system by cackling manically when ever something comes near their roost at night.

I managed to save some of them by repotting and careful reassembling of the system. I can’t stop the possum from getting into the garden, but I try. All holes have been patched, and repatched, but like everything, it doesn’t always work. The possums are a welcome part of our ecosystem and we never try to hurt them; they belong here as much as we do, but I do wish they would be less destructive sometimes. I will be having a stern word with that possum next time I see him.

The seedling area looks as good as new and 12 cauliflower seedlings were saved. Maybe it’s time to plant some more seeds.

 

Another Hugelkultur-like bed on the go

It has been a while since I posted…life gets in the way. I have been hard at work learning to be a ‘real’ teacher (as one of my students stated), and have had not much time for anything at home besides simple maintenance. I have managed (or we have managed, as my daughter has helped a lot) to start and gradually work on one project; a new Hugelkultur bed.

We have an old chicken tractor made from PVC pipe (electrical conduit) and chicken wire, it is so old that it can’t be moved anymore. We decided it would make a good vegetable bed as it is covered and secure and has a decent amount of space inside.

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Before we started working on the bed. The tin thing is a chicken roost.

We removed everything from the cage, leaving only a weedy, unpromising space. Then we began to gather mulching material (otherwise known as organic rubbish); we found some old rags (cotton and wool), newspaper and cardboard. We also started to gather sticks and wood for the Hugel building.

First we spread the rags, newspaper and cardboard over the grass; there wasn’t enough to cover it all so we are working in sections. Then we piled the sticks and some larger branches where we wanted the beds to be. On top of this we piled the contents of the bottom of the rabbit cage; poop and newspaper litter soaked in pee. We are in the process of collecting manure to add to the beds and a neighbor has offered to bring home some composted pig manure from her work for us (thank you L). Once the bed is piled up with sticks, manure and other compostables we will cover it all  with a layer of straw mulch and leave it to compost for a few weeks. I am looking forward to planting out another low water use bed…more broccoli, here we come.

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There will be a thin path from the door to the middle of the bed, the rest will be planted out with vegetables